While Beats by Dr. Dre products have been making all the noise in the hip-hop headphone market (we’ll let you decide if we’re being literal), 50 Cents’ SMS headphone brand has been quietly releasing an array of stylish, surprisingly well-balanced headphones. The latest addition to the lineup, the Street by 50 active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones, are a sleekly-styled set of noise cancellers with supple leather stitching, a durable folding frame, and an understated matte finish, all for under $300. We took the headphones on a serious test drive to see how they fit into the incredibly saturated market of celebrity cans.
Out of the box
Just like the original Street by 50 headphones we reviewed, the Streets by 50 ANC arrived in a thick, electric blue box wrapped in a cardboard cover sporting glamour shots of the headphones and Mr. Jackson himself. Opening the box’s magnetic flap produced yet another door with a shiny blue ribbon, and a picture of 50 brandishing the headset, looking contemplative. 50 can get deep, y’all.
Inside was a football-shaped case of shimmering black nylon, with electric-blue accents. We unzipped the case to find the headphones collapsed inside, their glossy ear cups surrounded by a heavy band with a soft, matte finish, layered with heaps of stitched leather padding. Unfolding the cans, we gave the band a quick wrench, which gave and sprung back with resilience.
In a buttoned flap on the bottom of the case was a collection of accessories including a blue headphone cable, an airplane adapter, and a mini-USB to USB cable for charging the ANC circuit’s rechargeable battery. Surprisingly, no ¼-inch adapter was included.
Features and design
Though the Street ANC offer plenty of style, the matte finish is decidedly understated, especially in the stoic black version we received, offering a more refined look than a lot of celebrity cans we see. Those looking for a bit more flare can opt for the flashier silver and white version (which are pictured here).
We found the [headphones’] grip a little oppressive, even with the super-plush padding.
The headphone’s design takes a minimalist approach, with a single hinged chassis supporting the ovular ear cups along rotating axes. The ear cups provide the only sparkle from the cans, sporting heavy gloss shells. The working end of the cups are finished with a plush layer of leather-cloaked memory foam, surrounding 40mm drivers.
Along the undercarriage of the band is another layer of memory foam padding, lined with leather, and embroidered with electric blue stitching. The left arm that extends from the band houses the headset’s nerve center, which consists of the ANC power switch, an LED power indicator, a mini-USB charging port, and a 3.5mm cable input. Battery life is estimated at an impressive (and optimistic) 65-70 hours, and the battery requires an approximate 2.5 hour charge time. The LED indicator glows blue with ANC engaged, red while charging, and green when a charge is complete. The headphones will play without ANC engaged, but the sound is seriously muffled and boomy, making it a contingency plan at best.
The included headphone cable is around 4 feet in length, terminated with a right angled, gold-plated jack. A small single-button inline microphone rests about six inches below the ear cup, allowing for phone calls, play/pause, and song progression.
While the Street ANC have a pretty firm grip – too firm for our taste – it does provide excellent passive noise isolation to accompany its ANC circuitry. We found the grip a little oppressive, even with the super-plush padding, but overall it wasn’t anything that bothered us to the point of being overly uncomfortable. The only real issue we had while wearing the headphones over extended periods was a common one, feeling some wear from the band at the top of the head. If asked, we would have suggested another inch or so of the memory foam padding up top.
The Street ANC do an impressive job of blocking out ambient noise, especially when music is playing. While testing around the house, the system completely eliminated sounds like our microwave and fans while muted, and with low volume music playing it allowed for almost total auditory evasion of the outside world.
The headset emits a fairly high level of white noise with the ANC circuitry engaged, but it wasn’t particularly bothersome and was inaudible with music playing.
If the Street ANC are styled like a Bentley on the outside, the sound on the inside is more akin to a Toyota Camry – pleasant, but not luxurious. Still, we enjoyed the headset for its clear and balanced sound signature, presenting a fair amount of detail and focused low end that was powerful without ever becoming oppressive. Though the headset didn’t produce the sort of elite level of definition or refinement we generally expect from a headphone at this price, the Street ANC were more than equipped to provide a pleasant listening experience in every corner of the wide spectrum of genres we tested.
We started our listening with Vampire Weekend’s “Mansard Roof.” The headphones did a great job handling the complex, manic attack of percussion and strings as the song exploded into the chorus. Snare and toms were light and clean, with an almost dainty attack, while crash cymbals had a smooth sustain.
If the Street ANC are styled like a Bentley on the outside, the sound on the inside is more akin to a Toyota Camry…
Cueing up Neil Young’s “One of These Days” showed the diversity of the headphone’s color palette, especially in the low end. While bass had been light and airy in other genres, here we got a nice taste of rich, ruddy inflection that pushed the track’s 70’s-style warmth up front.
We still wished for more definition in the percussion, especially hi-hat and snare, but the acoustic guitars were pulled off with plenty of nuance, detailing movements of fingers on strings with a little bit of woody resonance to spice things up. The overall instrumentation got a little cloudy at times, but the vocals remained extremely present, allowing us to hear each consonant and breath from Neil’s nasally pipes.
Those looking for spine-tingling bass hits from hip-hop and EDM may be slightly disappointed with the Street ANC, but for our ears, hip-hop had plenty of punch, reaching into the undercurrents of the foundation while maintaining a clean and heady balance of the percussion and vocals above. There were a few moments when sub-60Hz grooves seemed to muddy the sound and break away from the low-end’s firm presence, but overall the bass was judiciously handled, balancing power with clarity.
The Street by 50 ANC headphones offer all the style and cache of a celebrity headset, but without the celebrity excess. These headphones provide solid (but not excellent) noise cancellation, a rechargeable battery with some stamina, and a refreshingly accurate and balanced sound signature, all for a manageable $280. While there are certainly plenty of ANC headsets with better sonic definition and refinement, including the recently reviewed PSB M4U headphones, you’re likely to spend some serious coin for the upgrade. Those looking for reasonably-priced headphones with good sound, ample noise cancellation, and understated hip-hop style will find the Street by 50 ANC to be a worthy option.
- Clear, accurate treble
- Powerful, balanced bass
- Long-life rechargeable battery
- Good noise cancellation
- Sleek, premium design
- Misses some inner detail
- Fit is a little tight